N’Golo Kanté (French: [(ɛ)ŋɡolo kɑ̃te]; born 29 March 1991) is a French professional footballer who plays as a defensive midfielder for English club Chelsea and the France national team.
He made his senior debut at Boulogne and then spent two seasons at Caen, the latter in Ligue 1. In 2015, he joined Leicester City for a fee of £5.6 million and became an integral member of the club’s first ever Premier League win in his only season at the club. The following year, he joined Chelsea for a reported fee of £32 million, winning the league again in his first season. He also won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year and became the first outfield player to win back-to-back English league titles with different clubs since Eric Cantona in 1992 and 1993.
Kanté made his senior international debut for France in 2016. He was included in their squad that finished runners-up at that year’s European Championship. Two years later, he was a key member of the French team that won the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Born in Paris, Kanté began his career at the age of eight at JS Suresnes in the western suburbs of the capital, remaining there for a decade. According to assistant manager Pierre Ville, Kanté remained outside the radar of big teams because of his small stature and selfless style of play. Through the contacts of Suresnes’ president in 2010, he joined the reserve team of Boulogne. He made his professional debut in the last game of the Ligue 2 season on 18 May 2012, a 1–2 home defeat for his already relegated team to Monaco, replacing Virgile Reset for the final 11 minutes.
During the 2012–13 season, he played in the third-tier Championnat National, missing only one league game. On 10 August, he scored his first senior goal, the only one in a win over Luzenac at the Stade de la Libération, and he added two more over the campaign.
In 2013, he joined Ligue 2 side Caen and played all 38 games in his first season as they came third in Ligue 2, earning them promotion to Ligue 1. In his second match on 9 August, he scored his first goal to equalise in a 2–1 win at Laval; he levelled again with his other goal of the campaign on 11 April 2014, in a 3–2 win at Istres.
The following season, Kanté played 37 games as Caen remained in the top flight; his one absence was suspension through being sent off in a 0–1 home loss to Rennes on 30 August. Three weeks earlier, he scored their first goal of the season in a 3–0 win at Evian. He recovered the ball more times over the season than any other player in Europe.
Kanté was scouted for Premier League club Leicester City by Steve Walsh, who had previously facilitated the transfers of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to the team. On 3 August 2015, he joined Leicester on a four-year contract, for an undisclosed fee reported to be €8 million (£5.6 million). He made his debut five days later by replacing Vardy for the final eight minutes of a 4–2 home win over Sunderland. On 7 November, he scored his first Premier League goal in a 2–1 home win against Watford.
He earned much praise and many plaudits for his consistently impressive displays for Leicester, and was widely considered to be a major factor in the club’s excellent form as they went on to win the Premier League, consistently making a high number of tackles and interceptions. In April, he was one of four Leicester players named in the PFA Team of the Year. By the end of the season, Kanté had managed 175 tackles (31 more than any other player) and 157 interceptions (15 more than any other player), topping the defensive stats at the end of the 2015–16 Premier League season.
Kanté was the only key member of the squad to leave the club in the summer of 2016. His departure proved a major factor in Leicester’s sharp decline in form in the 2016–17 season, as the club was unable to find an equally skilled midfielder to replace him.
Kanté playing for Chelsea in 2017
On 16 July 2016, Kanté signed for Chelsea for a reported fee of £32 million. After signing a five-year contract with the club, Kanté said: “I am so happy to have signed for one of the biggest clubs in Europe. It’s a dream come true for me.” Kanté was given the number 7 shirt, left vacant since the exit of Ramires in January.
On 15 August 2016, Kanté made his competitive debut in their season opener against West Ham United. Although he picked up a yellow in the first three minutes of the game, he shone as the game went on, to help Chelsea to a 2–1 victory. Three months after his move to London, he faced his former side, Leicester City for the first time, and was Man of the Match in a 3–0 victory. On 23 October, he scored his first goal for Chelsea in a 4–0 home win against Manchester United.
On 26 December 2016, Kanté was named by L’Équipe as the world’s sixth best footballer of 2016.
On 13 March 2017, Kanté was named man of the match and scored the only goal in the 51st minute, in an FA Cup quarter-final win over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.
On 20 April, Kanté was named in the PFA Team of the Year for the second consecutive season. He was also later named the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, the FWA Footballer of the Year, and the Premier League Player of the Season. Kanté become the first player since Eric Cantona in 1993 to win back‑to-back top-flight titles in England with two different clubs. In October 2017, Kanté was nominated for the Ballon d’Or, which is awarded to the best player in world football.
Born to Malian parents, Kanté was approached by Mali ahead of the 2015 African Cup of Nations having not played for France in any of their age group teams. Kanté declined on the basis that he was still trying to establish himself in Ligue 1. Mali issued a further invitation to Kanté in January 2016, although he stated that he was still undecided about which national team to represent should he get an invite from France.
On 17 March 2016, Kanté was selected for the France senior squad for the first time to face the Netherlands and Russia in friendlies. He made his debut against the former eight days later, replacing Lassana Diarra at half time in a 3–2 win at the Amsterdam Arena. On his 25th birthday, 29 March, he made his first start and scored to open a 4–2 win over Russia at the Stade de France; fellow birthday celebrant Dimitri Payet also scored.
On 10 June 2016, Kanté appeared in his first competitive match for France by starting the opening match of Euro 2016 against Romania; he played the entire match, made the most passes, the most tackles, the most interceptions, covered the most distance on the pitch and assisted Dimitri Payet’s winning goal in a 2–1 victory. In the round of 16 match against the Republic of Ireland at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Kanté picked up a yellow card in the 27th minute (his second of Euro 2016 which would cause him to be suspended from the quarter-final) and was replaced with Kingsley Coman in the 46th minute with the French trailing 0–1 at half time. Kanté was unused in the final, which France lost 1–0 to Portugal after extra time.
On 17 May 2018, he was called up to the 23-man French squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. On 15 July, Kanté started in France’s 4–2 win over Croatia in the final of the tournament.
Style of play
After his first senior goal, French regional newspaper La Voix du Nord likened Kanté to Claude Makélélé in his early days at Nantes, due to their similar playing style and holding role in midfield. After asking the player if he considered Makélélé his role model, Kanté instead said that his was Lassana Diarra. Makélélé himself in February 2017 said that the one attribute Kanté needed to become an “exceptional player” would be leadership. A dynamic, diminutive, and hard-working player, known for his energy and excellent ball-winning abilities as a box-to-box midfielder, as well as his positional sense, athleticism, intelligence, versatility, and ability to read the game, Kanté made the most tackles in Europe’s top leagues in both the 2014–15 and 2015–16 seasons.
Although he is predominantly known for the tactical and defensive aspect of his game – namely his ability to cut out opposing attacks, tackle opponents, and intercept passes – he is also capable of starting offensive plays after regaining possession, courtesy of his simple yet precise and efficient distribution. In April 2016 Alex Ferguson claimed that “Kanté is by far the best player in the league”. Regarding Kanté’s tenacity and stamina, compatriot Paul Pogba has said of him: “Everybody knows that N’Golo Kanté can run for 11 players – that’s his best quality”, while Kanté’s former Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri commented: “This player Kanté, he was running so hard that I thought he must have a pack full of batteries hidden in his shorts. He never stopped running in training. I tell him, ‘One day, I’m going to see you cross the ball, and then finish the cross with a header yourself.’ He’s unbelievable.”
Aside from his playing ability, Kanté’s Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has also praised the midfielder for his discipline in training and willingness to improve himself constantly, and has described him as a “complete midfielder”.
Kanté’s parents migrated to France from Mali in 1980, and he grew up in a small flat in Rueil-Malmaison, Hauts-de-Seine. He is named for King Ngolo Diarra of the Bamana Empire. As of 2017, his younger sister was in the youth system at Suresnes. At the start of his professional career at Boulogne, he commuted to training by kick scooter, and as of 2018 he drove a Mini Hatch, interpreted by BBC Sport’s Paul Fletcher as showing he is “uninterested in displaying his wealth”. His former teammate, Éric Vandenabeele recalls that Kante is a devout Muslim and prays regularly. In his early career, Kante was a regular visitor of a Mosque in Boulogne with his then-teammate, Harouna Abou Demba.
As of match played 19 May 2018
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As of match played 15 July 2018
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Scores and results list France’s goal tally first.
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Premier League: 2015–16
Premier League: 2016–17
FA Cup: 2017–18
FIFA World Cup winner: 2018
UEFA European Championship runner-up: 2016
PFA Team of the Year: 2015–16 Premier League, 2016–17 Premier League
ESM Team of the Year: 2015–16, 2016–17
Leicester City Players’ Player of the Year: 2015–16
PFA Fans’ Premier League Player of the Month: March 2017
PFA Players’ Player of the Year: 2016–17
Premier League Player of the Season: 2016–17
FWA Footballer of the Year: 2016–17
Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year: 2016–17
Chelsea Player of the Year: 2017–18
Trophées UNFP for Best French Player Abroad: 2017, 2018
London Football Awards Player of the Year: 2017
French Player of the Year: 2017
FIFA FIFPro World XI 2nd team: 2017
FIFA FIFPro World XI 3rd team: 2016
The Best FIFA Football Awards: 2017 – 9th place
Ballon d’Or: 2017 – 8th place
L’Équipe Team of the Year: 2017